This week we have the pleasure of hearing from Darya Rose. In her own words:
“My name is Darya Rose and I am the creator of Summer Tomato.
I’m a PhDork and devout foodist, currently residing in foggy San Francisco with my husband Kevin Rose and our insanely adorable mini labradoodle, Toaster.
I spend most of my time thinking and writing about food, health and science. I eat amazing things daily and haven’t even considered “going on a diet” since 2007. I hover about 5-8 pounds below my original goal weight without much effort, and am in better shape than I was at 20, which is totally awesome.
In 2010, I completed my Ph.D in neuroscience at UC San Francisco––my diploma is signed by Arnold Schwarzenegger. A little over a year before graduating I started writing about food and health here at Summer Tomato, and by the time I graduated I had a new career.
My writing has been featured in several well known publications, and is frequently mentioned by many more. I received my bachelor’s degree in Molecular and Cell Biology from UC Berkeley, and was recognized as one of the top students in my graduating class of 2003. I also play Zelda.
As you can see, I’m a total geek.
For 10 years I studied basic science in labs at UC Berkeley and UCSF. I have worked extensively with both human subjects and experimental animals, using a wide range of techniques to explore the basic biological functions of the brain.
Originally my plan was to go into medicine (well, after I switched majors from English literature to biology in my 4th year of college––I graduated in 6 years) because I wanted to help people with diseases of the mind. However after a little digging I learned that there were no cures and very few effective treatments for the neurodegenerative diseases I was interested in. I then questioned how satisfied I would be in medicine and opted instead to go into research.
Although many brilliant people are making key discoveries in health every year, ultimately I realized science wasn’t the answer I was looking for either––at least not in the way I had envisioned. This is because in large part the questions I hoped to answer have already been solved.
In my quest to get to the bottom of my lingering weight problems (this was 2006), I discovered a rich body of scientific literature on how to prevent and sometimes cure almost all of the major diseases that plague modern society, including many of the neurodegenerative diseases that got me interested in science in the first place.
It turns out the answer isn’t surgery or drugs, it’s food.
The Slim Is Simple.org Non-Profit Nutrition Education Effort
Jonathan Bailor: Hey everyone, Jonathan Bailor back with another bonus Smarter Science of Slim Podcast. I am very excited about today show because we have a wonderful, wonderful researcher, author, woman, entrepreneur, example – she is the author of Foodist: Using Real Food and Real Science to Lose Weight Without Dieting. She is also the author of the wildly popular website summertomato.com Dr. Darya Rose, welcome to the show!
Darya Rose: Hey! It is good to be here.
Jonathan Bailor: Darya, your message is one that resonates so deeply with me and so deeply with so many as evidenced by your success. Can you tell me a bit about your core purpose and mission?
Darya Rose: Yeah, absolutely. I am a youngish to middle-aged female — just over 30 — and like most women my age, I have spent the better part of my life on every diet under the sun. I grew up in Southern California. My mother was doing Slim Fast, I started doing it for no reason. I just wanted to have milkshakes for breakfast. I was 11. From that day forward, I was just doing all of them. I did low-fat, low-carb, South Beach – I was running marathons at one point to burn extra calories while starving myself. Basically, it was a nightmare. That was one part of my life. I had my successes and I had my failures because I was always dieting. I was never super overweight, but I was definitely significantly bigger than I am now. I was miserable. Absolutely miserable. I hated food. It was my nemesis because it was causing me so much stress. I was ready for a change. Throughout my life, as well, I got into the science path. I was studying molecular biology. Specifically, I was emphasizing neuroscience and psychology. I realize that a certain point – I ended up going to graduate school to do my PhD – that I had enough training in science that I no longer had to read Cosmopolitan or these ridiculous diet books in order to understand how my body works. I can actually go to the science myself. Which is not trivial. The papers are not easy to read. You have to have academic accreditations to actually look at them without paying a fee. I studied the literature, and I found a couple of things that at first really, really upset me. The first thing that I found was that diets don’t work. When you have been doing them for 15 years, it is a major bummer. I was like “what, I’ve been doing this forever.” It’s worse than that it doesn’t work. It actually leads to weight gain over time, which is really upsetting, but made a lot of sense when I stopped and thought about it. Then when I learned what does work – this was sort of a leap of faith for me to some extent – I learned that you should focus on health. I cut out carbs, I cut out sugar, accounting calories – something had to work. I was focused too narrowly on micro macronutrients. What turned out to be much more important is your overall patterns of food. If you think about it, it makes sense. At the time, it seems so counterintuitive to me. I thought I needed to diet. I thought that if I ate healthy and eat three meals a day – things that I had never, ever done before – that I would gain weight. I didn’t. I stopped eating packaged diet foods and started focusing on real foods. I started focusing on healthy foods in the sense of vegetables, grains, beans, fish – stuff like that. To my shock, two things happened. One, for the first time in my life, I lost weight effortlessly. I was eating more than I thought I was allowed to eat, I was cooking, I was doing all of these weird things I thought only overweight people did and I was losing weight. The other thing that I discovered is that when you eat this kind of food – I grew up eating diet food. Have you ever had Slim fast? It tastes disgusting. Absolutely disgusting. I grew up eating this stuff. I realize that real healthy food – the stuff at the farmers market and the stuff in the produce aisle – is delicious. That really threw me for a loop. I just expected it to be bad. When I started focusing on real food, I suddenly started caring about the seasons. It is actually growing right now. I realize that these are completely different foods and that they are amazing. I had this epiphany. I was like “wait a minute, you can eat food that you like and lose weight?” The world needs to know this. I started writing. That is how the website was born and eventually how the book was born.
Jonathan Bailor: Darya, it seems that the core message of health and then – as a consequence – fitness and being comfortable with one’s physical appearance is both simple and delicious. That is a message that a lot of people would want to hear and to accept. Yet we still continue to be told that health and fitness is complicated and that it should feel like a burden. It should feel like you have to try. Why isn’t the simplicity breaking through?
Darya Rose: This is the key. You hit the nail right on the head. I like it. I like talking to smart people. We are told that it is hard. And what does that mean? In your mind, psychologically? It means that you have to make effort and that it requires willpower. That is the word that we always come back to. If you fail it is your fault, you didn’t try hard enough. You need more willpower. Make that happen it turns out, that philosophy that you need to work harder and you need to use your willpower and suffer in order to achieve your goals in health is completely, absolutely, 100 percent backwards. You couldn’t be more backwards. Here’s why. Willpower is not something you can just turn on and off like a switch. It is a resource that can be exhausted like a muscle. When you think about a muscle, it doesn’t matter how strong you are, right? You could be lifting a 10 pound dumbbell, and if you have to do it 1000 times, your arm is going to stop working at some point. You just can’t use it forever. Willpower works exactly the same way. What is funny is that the muscle analogy works really well because they actually both require the same energy. The reason that they deplete is because of blood sugar. Think about it, right? We are all awesome in the morning are you awesome when you wake up? Are you like “I’m going to conquer the world.” Maybe you’re a little groggy for a little while, but at least after your first cup of coffee, you are ready to go. What happens to most people is that they are rushing around, they are stressed out, the kids puked all over the place of the have to clean that up, take them to school, they are late for work, there’s a meeting, the bosses upset about something, rush through lunch – by the time they get home from work, they are completely depleted. It doesn’t just take willpower. Willpower is depleted by any tough decisions that you make during the day. What most people find is that by the time you get home and night, they just don’t have anymore. Crafting a difficult, healthy dinner that they have never made from some recipe that they read in Cooking Light magazine – it just doesn’t happen. And up calling for a pizza instead. What is amazing is that this is predictable. We know how the brain works. We all do this every single day. We know that it does not work. Then what is the answer? Why is this failing for everyone? What can we do instead? What I have discovered – and it is not a secret – is that what you need to do is you need to stop relying on willpower. The only way you can do that, is to start working on and building habits. Habits are magical. They actually don’t require willpower. They happen automatically. All they need is a trigger. You don’t have to think about it, you just go on autopilot. Your brain loves autopilot because it doesn’t need to do any work. Then you do whatever you have to do. The key to habits, no, as if you want to put your healthy eating on autopilot, that sounds great – the issue, though, is that habits do not form without a reward. I’m not talking a reward like “you’re going to fit in your jeans”. It has to be an immediate, tangible, physical or emotional reward. If it is not there, it will never form into a habit. It means you have to like what you are doing. It means you have to enjoy the foods that you are eating if they are healthy and you have to enjoy your workout routines. If you try to do something that you hate, it is just not going to stick and you are wasting time. You are wasting your willpower and it is just going to end up in failure. You are better off just starting with one little habit at a time and putting them on autopilot one at a time. If you think about your savings account, have you ever tried to not have a budget and just think “okay, I’m going to just spend money and then whatever is left over I’m going to put that in savings”? You are never going to have money left over at the end of the month. What you do is you automatically deducted and put in a special account and you are good. For your taxes or whatever. It is the same idea. You want to put as many things as you can on autopilot and then when the weekend comes and you have been healthy 85 to 90 percent of the week, you can do whatever you want. If you need a cheesecake or a cupcake or whatever.
Jonathan Bailor: Darya, one of the things that I have always admired is that if you look at people who eat in a way that is not considered a diet, but is also not normal – for example, vegetarians – it is not the typical diet. For most people, to think that they would never eat meat again would be very much a struggle and would very much require willpower. For the vast majority of vegetarians that I know, it is not as if their will power meter gets depleted every time a steak passes in front of their nose. They just don’t want it. Is that maybe an example of where we can make our minds go eventually – not so much for meat – but for these sickening edible products?
Darya Rose: Yeah. I think that is one good strategy. I don’t think that vegetarians necessarily enjoy passing up the meat, I think they have a conviction for a different reason. This is something that I recommend as well. When you establish some values that you associate with your identity – if you can link those two food in some way – maybe you care about where your food comes from, maybe you care about the environment, maybe you want organic, maybe you don’t agree with government subsidies that go into industrial food chains and you don’t want to support that kind of corporate welfare — whatever your pet cause is. There is good data that shows that people who believe in their food for more than “I just want to be skinny” or “I need to fix my cholesterol” – if you actually believe something about your food and that it matters behind you – something bigger than you. Sticking to it is not a problem. Not a problem at all. Think of religious practices were you fast for two weeks. It is the same thing. Those people do not cheat, and it is because they believe in what they are doing being absolutely who they are. It is part of their identity, and they would never mess that up.
Jonathan Bailor: Darya, some of the things that you are saying – when we state them explicitly, they are so profound – when you grit your teeth, it is not sustainable. It is a little bit like saying “I am just not going to go to the bathroom anymore”. You are going to lose. You are not going to be able to be hungry for the rest of your life. We all understand that on some level rationally, but it doesn’t set in. Maybe that emotional component. How do we overcome that?
Darya Rose: Absolutely. The biggest issue for most people is getting started. Getting started is the hardest part on any new habit. The distance is nothing. How far you have to go is nothing. It is the first step that is hard. When I try to do for people – I have dozens and dozens of tips in Foodist — is how to make that big wall in front of them that makes you look really hard, you want to bring that wall down so it looks like something you can just step over. It is really short and small and easy and surmountable. You just have to start small and get those small wins. I think that people dismiss that very easily. “Well, then it doesn’t seem worth it”. It is really the only way. My challenge to people is just “I dare you to do it”. People say “I want to start running three times a week”. And I say “how much do you run now?”. They say “zero”. And I ask them why they don’t just make their goal running one time a week and work your way up from there. I also recommend people to start eating breakfast. If you think about cutting stuff out, that is not really fun. Those are habits that are going to naturally sound fun and enjoyable to you. Eating more vegetables that are in season from a good vendor – getting something a little bit tastier and healthy – start there. Start with things that are really easy and fun for you. If you are eating a doughnut at work during your meeting every week, try bringing something else instead. Don’t just sit there and stare at the doughnut box wondering how soon the meeting is going to be over. Lots of people love Greek yogurt as a great alternative. You have something good that you have, and then you are not hungry anymore. He things like that.
Jonathan Bailor: Darya, In so many areas of life, we explicitly want and desire simplicity. We don’t even turn the key in our ignition anymore. We have a button to turn the car on. We love the iPad because it is so simple and easy to use. We always want things to be simple except when it comes to health and weight loss. It actually seems like people want this extreme thing or this really regimented program or weird, complicated calorie count. Calorie counting has to be the single most complicated thing ever, right? It’s like being diabetic with your blood sugar and you are trying to do that with calories? That’s even more of a pain in the butt. It’s almost like we seek that out. It’s almost like we want that complexity in this area of life why do you think that is?
Darya Rose: I think that we’ve been duped, honestly. People like to feel that they are basing their actions on sound science. They want to get really into the nitty-gritty because they think that if they understand the details, then they can make it work for themselves. I think that that has been a trick that the dieting industry has used to confuse us and to sell us crap. I know you know this, I love your video. People in the old days – people 40 or 50 years ago did not have these problems. We did not need to count calories or carbs and we didn’t have to take our yogurt and remove the fat from it in order to be thin and healthy. They were naturally thin and healthy without even trying. When you start to look harder at the situation you realize that the Emperor has no clothes. All of these magic formulas that are supposed to make us lose weight and be healthy, they don’t work. I am a scientist and it was scary for me to stop doing all of that and start eating real food. It was totally scary. My challenge to people generally is to just try it. It is a leap of faith, but if it doesn’t work – if you are eating breakfast and it doesn’t work – you can always go back here grapefruits and cabbage soup. It’s not going anywhere. You really have nothing to lose. Just start, and start small. Do the easiest things first. The low hanging fruits, and build from there. What I have found is that people will pick one thing. They will figure out a workout program that works for them, and they will start realizing that they feel good. The first three weeks a really hard, but then again to their routine and enjoy it. Then they start realizing “if I eat these fries, I am undoing half of my run this morning”. That is supposed to make them angry. That is what you want. You just build on those wins. You don’t have to try and do it all at once. Just pick one thing and tackle it for a couple of months and then move on from there.
Jonathan Bailor: Darya, certainly there is a wealth of information in addition to what we’ve talked about here up on your website summertomato.com. Folks, if you haven’t seen this website, please do check it out. It is just fabulously done – not only from a design perspective – but it is thrilling from the context perspective. And of course in your book, Foodist. One of the things that you do cover in your book, Foodist, that I wanted to touch on briefly is your work on how to deflect criticisms. One thing, especially in the family environment, if we as individuals deflect these choices. Often, how we live and how we live our life affects those around us. How do we deflect those criticisms when people start to give us those little negative jabs?
Darya Rose: Yeah, we talked about triggers. Little things can force you to react in a certain way. When you are dealing with other people, one of the biggest and most common triggers that we use that influence people’s perspectives of our actions are the specific words that we use to describe what we are doing. If you are holier than thou and saying “I, I, I” and talking about how you are all self-righteous, you are going to turn people off. You want to be really careful with the words that you use. Never imply a value to what you are doing. Never say “I am doing this because it is the right thing to do”. Just say “I have been tired, I just want to see if this will help me get a little bit more energy”. Make it more about you and not about them. Not about the general definition of the word “good”. Another thing to keep in mind is that 90 percent of people – and this is real data. I’m not making this up – when they hear the word “healthy”, they automatically think two things about what they are about to eat. One, that it doesn’t taste good or it taste worse than something that is not healthy; and two, that it is not very filling or satisfying. This is a problem. Sometimes the food is an even healthy. Like Subway is a great example. They call it a health halo. People think that they are eating something healthy. It has 300 more calories than a Big Mac and then they go eat the cookie because they thought they were doing something good for themselves. In terms of dealing with your family and friends, if you want to make some amazing food and share with them – which is the best way that I have found to keeping people on your team – they know that you are healthy. They can see you. They can see what you look like and what you are eating. If you don’t ever use the word “healthy” and just make something really amazing and share with them and let them try it for themselves, the word “healthy” goes away and all that they are thinking about this tasty food.
Jonathan Bailor: I love it, I love it. Folks, her name is Darya Rose. She is the author of Foodist. Obviously, I could talk you for a day nonstop, but I know you are a busy woman. I will wrap up here. Her website is summertomato.com. The woman who joined us today is Darya Rose. Brilliant as well. Darya, what is next for you?
Darya Rose: I am still trying to figure it out. Right now I’m trying to tell everybody that I can about Foodist. I don’t think that there is anything more important to do then to drive this message home until the entire country stops dieting.
Jonathan Bailor: Darya, certainly I salute that effort and I am joining you right there on the front lines. Thank you for all that you do to help so many lives so much better.
Darya Rose: Thanks so much, Jonathan.
Jonathan Bailor: Folks, I hope you enjoyed today’s conversation is much as I did. Remember: this week and every week after; eat smarter, exercise smarter, and live better. Chat with you soon.